I have a baffling tendency in my writing to sometimes invest characters with qualities that are utterly foreign to me. Now, naturally that’s pretty common. It’d be a helluva boring world if all authors’ characters were themselves carbon copied over and over again (do the kids these days know what a carbon copy is?). But for me there is one quality that continues to pop up in story after story that I’m beginning to find a little odd. For some reason I’m running a guerrilla campaign in my fiction with the goal of convincing the world that I really like sushi.
I hate sushi.
I hate most fish. I’ll eat mussels sometimes and clams are okay and canned tuna I’ll do, but other than that I hate fish. And this isn’t a “I can’t stand how slimy they look and I’ve never touched one” sort of hate. Over the years I’ve sampled what I’ve been told is some of the best fish in the world. Smoked salmon in an Alaskan fishing shack, the winner of the best tapas in Spain, plus I’ve picked off of plates in a number of restaurants here in New York. And they’ve done nothing for me even when I have been able to swallow. I hate fish.
Yet love of sushi has appeared in a lot of my stories. It pops up in “New York City Marathon” for example and, possibly for the last time, it appears in the form of Kyokutei in the Matthew and Epp stories. I say possibly for the last time because in its other iterations my fake love of sushi was a passing nod, a glance in through the window, a cursory mentioning. With Kyo things became a lot more involved and I spent days reading more things about sushi than one might consider sane. It didn’t help that I needed to know about sushi as we know it as well as sushi as Kyo knew it. This is because sushi became a huge part of his story as it was fleshed out in “The Monk, The Warrior and The Lord.” But that isn’t the story that contains the number four moment.
Nope. Kyo was rather nebulous before the writing of “The Monk” for me and until I actually wrote his story it wasn’t clear exactly how far outside the normal lines he existed, so even though that story was where he solidified into the samurai that he is, that story doesn’t contain his moment in my mind…although he’s not a samurai. He’s a ronin. And that is what his story is all about.
Which is to say that Kyo’s origin story drew heavily on the Japanese legend of the 47 Ronin with the number of ronin, obviously, decreased by 46 and the length of time and the number of antagonists increased. His story was a departure from the main storyline but I knew that Kyo’s differences were going to become important and I felt that establishing his origin was blah blah blah I really wanted to write a story about a samurai.
But, again, his spot on this list doesn’t come from his origin story. For Kyo’s moment I find myself landing squarely in the little precursor for “The Monk, The Warrior and The Lord” that we get in “Robin’s Flight.” During Robin’s tour of the world we touch base with all the main characters as they go through their day and in Kyo’s case that meant him sitting at a local sushi bar in Tokyo by himself, desperately trying to convince the chef to make him a type of sushi that hasn’t been around (to the best of my understanding) for a few centuries. And as Kyo stares down the chef, the chef stares back and now and again gets the strangest sensation of times long past, of wagon wheels rolling over hard dirt ruts and the shouts and smells of a small village in ancient Japan.
For me this is everything. Kyo’s longing for his past is so strong that even the sushi chef can feel it and in a few quick strokes Kyo’s loneliness is captured. That’s really what his story was about for me. An outsider in every way, Kyo never even had a chance to make his own choices. There is a sense for those testers who do their work that some sort of release awaits them; in the first story Epp talks about how his mentor eventually was able to move on. But for Kyo this hope doesn’t exist. In death Kyo hoped to find honor and a completion of his tasks, but instead he finds himself wedged between worlds forever as an anomaly that nobody quite understands with a set of rules that nobody can figure out.
Of course rules are never as set as most people think they are and Kyo, albeit hundreds of years later than most, does make a second choice of sorts in the form of Mary. So the last few seconds of “Where Sarpedon’s Body Lay” were in the running for Kyo’s slot. As were any scenes where he was using his sword.
But, in the end, I had to go with Kyo staring down the sushi chef in “Robin’s Flight” where we get our first whiff of the age that produced Kyo, where for the first time we see Kyo when no other testers are around, and where I first began to wonder just how different this guy really was:
“It is not the same effect,” Kyo said, and the itamae felt the odd notion that this man in the ugly suit was not who he appeared to be. His eyes, his manner, his ability to act in the most impolite way but somehow not come across as anything but the superior in the situation, all of these things always made the hairs on the back of the chef’s neck stand up. Anyone else would have deserved a ban from the sushi bar and would not have been allowed to remain after such insults, but the sushi chef always felt a strange sensation when he talked to this man that settled somewhere deep in the back of his skull and for fleeting moments he would feel as if he were one of the ancient members of his trade in some roadside shack along a muddy road, outdoing his own best to craft perfect pieces of sushi that would feed the local samurai who passed through. The sushi chef enjoyed this feeling immensely, and it was for this reason alone that the man in the ugly suit was allowed to act as he did, not to mention rarely, if ever, pay his bill.